(excerpted from "Libertarian/Conservative" essay)
Self-righteousness may indeed be one of the urges behind liberal activism, but a greater factor might well be the interesting phenomenon of "Radical Pique." It will be noted that the anti-capitalists in this country and elsewhere are not at all the struggling masses of Marxist folklore. On the contrary, they comprise a comfortable and prominent elite. Generally affluent and well-educated, they represent important segments of the professions, the media, politics, and especially the intellectual community. They are bright, articulate and idealistic. But they are also impatient and resentful. They have all the answers (they think) to the problems of poverty, the environment, the economy, housing, etc. - but the marketplace does not pay sufficient attention to what they are saying!
Here is the essence of Radical Pique: disdain for an economic system which responds to what people actually want rather than to what these bright reformers think they should want. Worse, capitalism rewards those who cater to those wants. But a system so vulgar that it gives more encouragement to a rock star than to a leftist intellectual; or so materialistic that it pays more attention to a consumer than to a consumer advocate; or so insensitive that it rewards a developer who builds needed housing more highly than the environmentalist who opposes it; is obviously rotten to the core!
Unwilling to accept the indifference of the marketplace, the anti-capitalist elite turns instead to the machinery of political force. Hence the determination to politicize issues: to get them out of the marketplace, where anti-capitalists have no more influence than anyone else, and into the political arena where they have a great deal of influence. With their intelligence, communications skill, and organizing ability, they can load a hearing room or create an ad hoc committee or stage a media event at the drop of a phone call. In this arena they are no longer mere consumers voting with their dollars; they are at last the molders and shapers of society. Political force has elevated them to a position of importance they would never be able to achieve through the give-and-take persuasions of the marketplace.
“Progressives” despise capitalism, then, not because it is undemocratic, but precisely because it is democratic: It responds to what people actually want, rather than to what the liberal elitist wants. Hence Radical Pique.
One unfortunate product of Radical Pique is that it has been so successful in invoking the plight of the poor. In so doing, it has pursued counter-productive policies which actually harm the long-term interests of the poor.
In fact, the greatest benefactor of the poor has not been government at all, but capitalism. It’s capitalism which has generated in this country the highest standard of living the world has ever seen – for the poor as well as the rich.